Sometimes You Get What You Paid For

Things have been busy here at the office, and it has been sometime since a blog article was written. I received a call the other day from a potential client that got me thinking.

This client had initially contacted my office along with two other persons. All three were injured in a collision wherein a truck tire had come off of a big rig and slammed into their car. The injuries were moderate, but included broken bones and other injuries which are very serious to the person sustaining those injuries.

I met with the three of them. One of the three seemed to be in charge, and the other two listened to him. After we talked a little about the cases, the man in charge wanted to know if I would take less than my normal fee to represent them. I told them no. The fee charged is fair, and after doing this work for 26 years, I was comfortable I was worth every penny. The man also told me that in his opinion the case should be settled quickly. I politely told him that was a bad idea, as all three of these nice people had on-going injuries, the full extent of their injuries had not been fully investigated (and especially for the man who later called me, there was a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and serious sounding back injury, and not even half the basic and required treatment and testing had been done). Only an attorney who is inexperienced or only wanted a quick settlement for money would move to settle at that juncture in the case.

These three clients did not sign up with my office.

Fast forward about 6 months. I received the phone call referenced in the beginning of this article. It was not from the man who had been in charge at the meeting, but from the man with the TBI and lumbar injury. He asked if I remembered him, and I said yes (Clients and potential clients are very important people to me, and I always try to remember people who are important to me).

He asked if I would be willing to meet with him as he had fired the lawyer the three had hired, and he had questions and wanted to talk to me. A couple days later he came to see me in my office.

He had sustained a TBI in the collision, an injury to his low back, and several other injuries. He was a self-employed handy man with his own business, and he had not been able to return to work since the collision.

He showed me some paper-work from the attorney that he (and the other 2) had retained instead of me. The fee contract showed that the other lawyer had agreed to accept a reduced rate on his fees, and got the case instead of me; unfortunately for this man, the other lawyer apparently had not done anything on the case, did not keep him informed, did not help him obtain doctors, and the man was very dejected.

I learned at this time that he had fired his first lawyer, but had retained another lawyer, but that the new lawyer was not helping him or keeping him informed. At that point, he showed me his paper-work, and his second lawyer had filed a lawsuit for him 5 months earlier against the trucking company responsible for his injuries.

This poor man could not tell me why his lawyer filed the lawsuit, whether or not a settlement offer had been made before suit was filed, and a host of other things that a client should know when they are represented by a lawyer. (Lawsuits for the most part get filed after treatment is complete (or at least a firm-diagnoses made by a doctor) and after the insurance company has refused to make a fair settlement offer (there are always exceptions).

I looked through the lawsuit filed by the man’s new lawyer against the trucking company, and it was a standard “short form complaint” that might be used in a simple car versus car case (Please see my website under the trucking page for the reasons that trucking cases cannot be handled like a simple car versus car case).

A quick look at the new lawyer’s website showed that his specialty was business law, corporate law, wills and trusts, and then almost as an add-on, personal injury. (There is too much for the injured person to lose, the stakes too high, and the insurance companies we deal with on each and every case (yes, there is always insurance involved) are too well funded and too ruthless for a lawyer to “dabble in personal injury litigation”. I frequently have clients call me wanting me to take over their cases. Too many times the mistakes made by inexperienced lawyers cannot be fixed and it is too late to help.

Even more concerning, I asked what doctor{s} he had been in to see for his TBI, and I was shocked to hear that he had never seen a doctor for his TBI. I asked him about his low back, which was causing him disabling pain and pain shooting into his gluteus, and down his leg (a classic sign of a herniated disc which requires an MRI and the right doctor to diagnose), and to my further shock he said he had not seen a doctor or gotten an MRI for his low back. Neither the first lawyer who took the cut-rate fee, nor his current lawyer, had gotten him in for a lumbar MRI or to see a specialist for the TBI.

I felt sad for the man, because a lawsuit should not have been filed on his behalf without figuring out what was going on with his TBI and his likely herniated low back disc. Both of these conditions can be life-altering and disabling, yet neither had been investigated.

At that point, I gave the man a list of questions and suggestions, and advised him to meet with his lawyer (he said whenever he called, the only person who would ever speak to him was an assistant; he never would be able to speak to his lawyer), and discuss what was going on. I assured the man he had the right to speak with his lawyer in person, and it was reasonable for him to know what was going with the case, what the lawyer’s plan was, and to ask why his injuries were going untreated?

As he left it got me thinking about the career I had chosen, and what it means to be a lawyer in general, and to practice personal injury law specifically. I truly believe, for those lawyers who care about their clients, that the practice of law is a noble calling; but it is not for the faint of heart. I heard once that lawyers, especially those involved with trial work, have a higher incidence of depression, alcohol and drug use, and suicide than police officers and first responders. I do not know if that is true, but the stress that those brave heroes endure is tremendous, and even if it is only partially true that lawyers have more or similar stress to what our first responders deal with, it shows that the strain on lawyers who care about their clients is tremendous. The long hours, the strain, the high stakes, it can be demanding.

I sometimes fear when I am in trial and talking to juries, or to my own clients, they think that we are just spending a couple weeks or months in trial, and then possibly will make a lot of money. They do not understand that to do this job correctly takes an extreme amount of time, expense (the lawyer generally advances all case costs), expertise, and commitment (Working for years on a case is not unusual), and if the case is lost at trial, then the lawyer gets paid nothing, and is often out many thousands or sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars in case costs (Part of the basis for our fees is the risk of losing and having to advance case costs).

The choice of the right lawyer makes a gigantic difference on how the case will turn out. Lazy or inexperienced lawyers rarely get anything close to the results an experienced and committed trial lawyer will get.

Please understand that I am not bashing other lawyers, or trying to say that I am the only lawyer who can do a great job. There are many tremendous lawyers out there; however, there are also a lot of bad and lazy lawyers, some who are afraid to take cases to trial (you know who you are, and so does the insurance companies).

As a client, you have the right to be kept reasonably informed on your case. You have the right to actually talk with your lawyer (all lawyers have assistants, and it is expected that assistants and paralegals will handle much of the day to day stuff). In my office if a client calls, I either take the call, or return it within 24 hours. When in trial this rule can get broken, but I try my best to adhere to it (I once had a client leave a message saying it was important. I was in trial, and the only time I had to return the call was at 1:00 in the morning. I told him his case was important, he said his message was important so I was carving out the only time I had to return the call.

I truly feel blessed to have a career that helps people. Many of my clients come to me at the most desperate of times. They are injured, cannot work, have lost a loved one, are having trouble paying their bills, facing foreclosure, and they are worried. This has come about as a result of the carelessness of somebody else.

With the stakes this high, and with our opponents being billion-dollar ruthless insurance companies, your case is too important to trust to a cut-rate lawyer who will agree to take a reduced fee, but then let your case sit gathering dust as a numbered file.

Before hiring a lawyer, I would advise considering the following:

1: Does your lawyer practice injury law full time, or do they dabble and primarily practice other types of law?

2: Do they have at least 10 years’ experience and preferably over 20 years?

3. Are they a member of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA)? ABOTA is the premier trial lawyer organization. Open to both plaintiff and defense lawyers, it is one of the only lawyer organizations wherein you must be invited to join, be peer reviewed, and have been lead counsel in excess of 25 civil trials (most lawyer organizations are open to any lawyer who pays the fee). Only approximately 1% of all lawyers world-wide are ABOTA members.

4. Are they in your local area or have a plan to make sure to take care of you?

5. Do they have on-line recommendations?

6. Have they been disciplined or having other bad conduct listed with the State Bar of CA (You can check).

7. Can the lawyer explain your options (or help) with getting treatment for your injuries? This is both to help you heal, and also to have the requisite proof if the case goes to trial.

Sometimes when you pay a cut-rate for a product, you get a cut-rate lawyer. At my office, we limit the number of cases we take in. We work on serious injury cases, and only take on new business if we can properly devote the correct amount of time to properly care for all of our clients. I never want a client’s file to sit in a drawer gathering dust. We actively work our cases, because our clients count on us (another criterion is we only represent people with real injuries and who are not trying to fake injuries. Those rare “fraudster cases” insult all real victims who are hurt through no fault of their own and are just doing their best to heal and get back to their lives).

I want to dedicate this article to all of the men and women who practice law the right way, zealously representing their clients and putting the needs of the client first.

Categories: Personal Injury

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